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The always-interesting Mind Hacks has a fascinating story about cases of mental illness seemingly triggered by viewing The Exorcist:

Horror movie The Exorcist remains one of cinema’s darkest and most frightening classics. So great was its power that rumours circulated about viewers running in fear, feinting, or even going mad after seeing the film. In fact, it caused such concern that it was discussed in the medical literature for its possible role in triggering mental illness.

In 1975 psychiatrist James Bozzuto wrote an article for the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease entitled ‘Cinematic Neurosis Following The Exorcist’ that reported four cases of previously untroubled people who seemed to develop psychiatric difficulties after watching the film.

Vaughan goes on to make clear that, while the movie’s horror elements certainly had their impact, the greater contributor to these cases – and their publication in medical literature – was media hype and the social climate surrounding the release of the controversial film:

While the cases remain entirely anecdotal, it’s interesting that they made it into print at all, considering that almost all films have the potential to trigger emotional crises in some.

The fact that the issue of ‘Exorcist madness’ was considered serious enough to appear in a medical journal is more likely testament to the fact that the film touched a raw nerve in the America of the 1970s, than the fact that it raised the hackles of some of its audience members.

It’s enough to make your head spin…